According to the Pew Research Center, social media is “almost ubiquitous” in the lives of teens. From the perspective of most teens and many parents and educators, this is good news: social media benefits teens and teens by helping them develop communication skills, make friends, pursue areas of interest and to share their thoughts and ideas.
The positive aspects of social media
Social media enables you to:
- Communicate and stay up to date with family and friends around the world.
- Find new friends and communities; network with other people who share similar interests or ambitions.
- Join or promote worthwhile causes; raise awareness on important issues.
- Seek or offer emotional support during tough times.
- Find vital social connection if you live in a remote area, for example, or have limited independence, social anxiety, or are part of a marginalized group.
- Find an outlet for your creativity and self-expression.
- Discover (with care) sources of valuable information and learning.
The negative aspects of social media
Social media may promote negative experiences such as:
- Fear of missing out can compel you to pick up your phone every few minutes to check for updates, or compulsively respond to each and every alert—even if that means taking risks while you’re driving, missing out on sleep at night, or prioritizing social media interaction over real world relationships.
- High usage of Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram increases rather decreases feelings of loneliness.
- The more you prioritize social media interaction over in-person relationships, the more you’re at risk for developing or exacerbating mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
- Social media platforms such as Twitter can be hotspots for spreading hurtful rumors, lies, and abuse that can leave lasting emotional scars.
- Sharing endless selfies and all your innermost thoughts on social media can create an unhealthy self-centeredness and distance you from real-life connections.
Social media can and does have a positive effect on children and teens, whether by teaching social skills, strengthening relationships or just being fun. Persistent use of these social platforms can also have a negative impact, particularly on the mental health and well-being of young users. Children, parents and teachers need to understand the full impact of social media use by adolescents and teens, especially the risks these services pose on their mental health. The tools, tips and resources in this guide can help ensure that the use of social media by young people strengthens their personal social network and improves their general mental wellness.
Tips and Resources for Teens and Children
Set Limits on the Time Spent on Social Media
Perhaps the single most effective way for teens and adolescents to ensure their use of social media has a positive impact on their lives is by spending less time using the services. The students who restricted their social media use to 30 minutes a day reported less depression and loneliness after three weeks, and the increase in feeling good was highest for students who reported “higher levels of depression” when the study began.
Avoid Falling into the Negativity Trap
Young people who feel good about themselves tend to post only positive things online, which creates a positive feedback loop. Conversely, those with low self-esteem may find themselves posting only negative material, which often puts them in a negative feedback loop.
Social Media Isn’t Real
Avoiding uncomplimentary comparisons and breaking out of the negativity trap can be as easy as taking a break from social media, and perhaps all online activity, for days at a time rather than just for an hour or two. Teens can learn a valuable lesson about their own self-worth as a result of the emotions they feel while using social media. How we truly feel about ourselves begins from the inside and is expressed outwardly.
Monitor Children’s Social Messages
Parents should instruct their children on how to apply the privacy protections in each social platform. But even the strictest privacy settings can’t protect against the negative impact of improper sharing on social media. Children must also be warned that adult predators of all types use these services in their attempts to attract and exploit children.
Social media platforms are designed to snare your attention, keep you online, and have you repeatedly checking your screen for updates. It’s how the companies make money. But, much like a gambling compulsion or an addiction to nicotine, alcohol, or drugs, social media use can create psychological cravings. When you receive a like, a share, or a favorable reaction to a post, it can trigger the release of dopamine in the brain, the same “reward” chemical that follows winning on a slot machine, taking a bite of chocolate, or lighting up a cigarette, for example. The more you’re rewarded, the more time you want to spend on social media, even if it becomes detrimental to other aspects of your life.